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Marriage Could Help Reduce The Risk Of Dementia, Study Says

But there are many factors that can decrease your chances of mental decline.

11/30/2017 10:26 EST | Updated 11/30/2017 10:26 EST
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If "but we love each other" isn't working on your partner, you could try convincing them to get hitched using this scientific reason.

According to a new study, marriage could help reduce the risk of dementia in old age. The review, published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, found that people who remained single or whose spouse had died had an increased risk of mental decline compared to people who stayed married.

Researchers from University College London analyzed 15 previous studies on dementia and marital status, which involved a total of 800,000 people in North America, Europe, and Asia. Specifically, they found that people who remained single had a 42 per cent higher likelihood of developing dementia and widows and widowers were 20 per cent more likely compared to married folks.

Strangely, researchers didn't find a link between being divorced and a higher chance of dementia.

However, lead study author Dr. Andrew Sommerlad noted that the researchers "do not think that it is marriage itself which causes reduced dementia risk."

"Our research suggests that the possible protective effect is linked to various lifestyle factors which are known to accompany marriage, such as living a generally healthier lifestyle and having more social stimulation as a result of living with a spouse or partner," he said.

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Although the study doesn't prove a direct link between long-lasting marriage and a decreased risk of dementia, Sommerlad said, "the higher risk for unmarried people remains even when physical health is taken into account, suggesting that the benefit of marriage is due to more than just improving physical health."

The researchers noted that aside from physical health, previous studies have suggested that married people are more likely to be socially engaged than single people, which could help stave off mental decline. Widows and widowers could face an increased risk of dementia due to bereavement. And other explanations for dementia include underlying cognitive or personality traits.

But there are ways to delay the onset of dementia, single or not.

"We can take steps in our lives to reduce or delay dementia. A healthy diet, exercise and prompt treatment of medical problems, as well as keeping an active mind through social and mental activities, may make a difference," Sommerlad said.

Being financially stable may also contribute to a decreased risk of dementia. Dr. Laura Phipps of Alzheimer's Research UK told the Guardian, "People who are married tend to be financially better off, a factor that is closely interwoven with many aspects of our health."

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According to Alzheimer Society Canada, as of 2016, an estimated 564,000 Canadians are living with dementia, with about 25,000 new cases diagnosed every year. By 2031, the number of Canadians living with the disease is expected to rise to 931,000, an increase of 66 per cent.

Alzheimer Society Canada also notes that 65 per cent of those diagnosed with dementia over the age of 65 are women.

Dementia is actually not one specific disease — it can be caused by other diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia, head trauma, Lewy Body disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Parkinson's disease, and Huntington's disease.

The defining characteristic of dementia is that all of the symptoms are caused by disorders that affect the brain. Symptoms can include memory loss, changes in mood or behaviour, and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving and language that affects their everyday life.

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